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10 practice drills to improve your golf game

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If your life is like mine, you only have a limited amount of time to practice your golf game. So when you do, you want to maximize time rather than mindlessly beating range balls. Personally, as my golf career has progressed, I’ve figured out what works best for my golf game and what drills seem to give me the best output with my limited input.

In this article, I outline the drills that work for me. I’ve always placed drills into two categories, mechanical and game-improving. Mechanical drills are ones that help fix swing issues like over the top, casting, etc. Game-improving drills are ones that hone the necessary skills to shoot lower scores. In my experience, you need to perform both types of drills in order to truly improve your game.

For this article, I give you my top game-improving drills so you can make practice more fun and get better in the process. Look out for an article on my top mechanical drills in the near future.

1. Putting: High Break, Medium Break, Low Break

PuttingBreak

Being a successful putter means consistently marrying line and speed. But in order to do that, you need to be able to see the different lines that the ball can possibly take as it rolls across the green. There’s a “high” side and a “low” side to every putt, and if you can’t see the difference between those, you’re limiting your ability to read greens.

This drill helps develop that feel and imagination.

Pick a putt between 10-20 feet with some break in it, and practice finding the highest and lowest break points possible to still have the ball go in the hole. This will mean altering speeds in the process. Developing your imagination will help you better manage your line and speed on the greens.

2. Putting: Left Hand (Line), Right Hand (Feel)

Golfers often feel that one hand dominates their putting stroke, which is not a problem, but I like to train each hand individually to know its role during the stroke.

“Lead hand controls the line while the rear hand controls the loft of the blade,” Homer Kelley says in the classic golf instruction book, The Golfing Machine.

This drill, which you may have seen Tiger Woods perform in the past, has golfers hit putts of different lengths with just their right hand, and then just their left hand. You’ll want to notice how the face and loft of the blade changes during the strokes with each hand, which will give you a great feel for the role that each hand plays in the stroke.

Figure out which hand you feel more comfortable with when putting one-handed, and you’ll then know which hand you want to feel dominates the stroke when you’re putting with both hands.

3. Getting Back Your Short Game Feel

Back when I was a competitive player, there was nothing worse than losing my feel around the greens. I combatted this by looking for the longest grass around the practice green I could find, and practicing soft-landing flop shots to a tight pin. The longer grass made me accelerate through the ball and the precision required made me focus on hitting a perfect shot. And more times than not, I’d have my feel back after the session.

The next time you’re struggling with your feel, try hitting shots that require acceleration. It will free you up so you can get back to getting up and down.

4. Snake Drill (Bunkers)

BunkerDrillGolf

The biggest issue most golfers have when playing bunker shots is their lack of low-point control; most can contact the sand before the ball, as needed, but they either take too much sand or not enough. If you’ve ever seen someone leave a ball in the bunker, then blade one over the green, you know what I’m talking about.

To solve this, I like to draw two lines in the bunker about six inches apart– I call them “snakes,” because that’s what they look like — and practice impacting the sand on the first line and have the club exit the sand at the second line. When I miss the “snakes,” I get to see exactly where I went wrong.

5. Line Drill (Wedges)

IronDivotDrill

One of the most aggravating things in golf is to hit a great drive to 100 yards or less from the pin, then lay the sod over the ball on your approach and watch the ball fly only half-way there. As you know, hitting wedges solid is one of the keys to scoring well and one of the true great feels in golf. So whenever I have issues striking my wedges solidly, I use my “line drill.”

Draw a line in the turf and place the ball on the target side of the line. Then, hit a few shots and note where the divot begins. If you can consistently take a divot on the line or slightly forward of it, you’re on your way to more solid wedge shots.

6. Connection Drill (Wedges)

GolfDrillsStickney

Consistent impact with wedge shots is crucial to ball striking, as we learned above. But how do we accomplish it from day to day? By using the big muscles to power the little muscles. A strong connection between the torso and the golf club will keep the body and club from getting disconnected. Whenever golfers use their hands excessively around the green, they’re destined for problems.

To combat this, place a towel under your armpits and hit short chip shots. The idea is to hit the ball solid and keep the towels from falling out, working everything back and through TOGETHER.

Another drill to feel this connection is to stick an alignment rod in the hole in your grip and make practice swings from waist high to waist high without getting slapped by the extra long club. If your hands become overactive, the stick will let you know.

7. Mid-Irons (Left-Straight-Right)

Anytime I see players hitting the ball very well OR very poorly, I ask them to use the left-straight-right drill with a mid-iron. That’s because when good golfers are hitting the ball well, they can make it curve however they want and go to the course with supreme confidence. On the flip side, if they’re hitting shots all over the lot, they’re usually better off identifying the trajectory they’re most confident in and sticking with it until their swings come back. That will help them score better.

For the drill, use a 6, 7 or 8 iron and practice hitting draws, fades and straight shots, alternating between each. Practice curving it a lot, then practice curving it a little. See how much control you can gain over the amount you curve the ball, or what shot is working best for you that day.

8. Mid-Iron (9 Panes of Glass Drill)

Imagine a big window in the sky with nine panes of glass; one pane for each possible shot you can hit. Low-left, high-right, straight-middle, and so on.

The best part of Bubba Watson’s game is the way he can make the ball move through any pane of glass with any club at any time. Golf is much more than just hitting a series of straight shots at the highest level, and shaping shots is key to converting good strikes into lower scores. The more shots you have in your arsenal the better you will play, regardless of your level of play.

Take as much time as you can to learn how to hit all nine shots with a mid-iron, and expand to the other clubs in your bag once you do. Start this winter and come spring, you’ll be glad you did.

9. Driver: Find the Fairway Any Way You Can

When you’re struggling with your driver, you need a go-to shot to find the fairway. It’s even more important to have a go-to shot when you’re under pressure, whether you’re playing for your pride or your career.

For this drill, simply take time experimenting on the range with your driver. Try hitting huge banana balls, stingers and hooks on command. Eventually, you’ll figure out what shot feels most reliable for you. Remember, this is more about accuracy than distance. You want to find the shot you can get in the fairway no matter what.

10. Driver: Impact Drill with Spray

ImpactPointsFeat

The best way to audit your impact on the practice tee is to spray the face with Dr. Scholl’s Foot Spray to see where the ball contacts the face. Remember, you can do more to gain distance by improving impact location and consistency than adding club head speed.

Related: How a cure for athletes foot can lead to better drives

One of the best recent golf studies I’ve seen was by James Leitz, who charted the changes in impact point with a driver and what it did to the ball speed, spin rate, and launch angle. Basically, the study showed that golfers must contact their drives in the high center of the club face to create the launch conditions that maximize distance off the tee.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Chris

    Jul 9, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Love the Dr Scholl idea! Will definitely use it next time.

  2. Pingback: Golf Practice Drills To Improve Your Golf Game - TrueStrike Golf Practice Mats

  3. Pingback: 10 PRACTICE DRILLS | Honourable Society of Golf Fanatics

  4. Dan

    Jan 10, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Great article and perfectly timed. This will help keep me focused during the long NE winter months. I look forward to your foreshadowed subsequent article.

  5. Bert

    Jan 8, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Tom – remember you from your time at Sandestin. Looks like your still one of the best instructors in golf and thanks much for your articles. One subject, and I may have missed it, is spine angle (posture). I believe the need to maintain correct posture is very difficult as we get older. Also I’ve noticed that my wife Sheri, who’s short, has a tendency to stand tall and it seems to cause her to swing flat which causes fat shots and low left hooks. Lydia Ko is short but has great posture and her swing appears to be upright and she hits down on the ball. Can spine angle cure fat shots and give you the ability to hit down and through the ball?

    • Jack

      Jan 14, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      I don’t think it’s the spine angle so much as the proper sequencing of body movements. Lower body to shoulder to arm. When you start activating the arms too early, you’re bound to hit it fat. For me, I try to remember the arms don’t start really swinging forward until the right shoulder is rotating down at impact.

      I have the same problem with fat shots, and it’s a combination of the above factors. Standing too upright is a problem for me as well, and I’ve found that my hands compensate by holding the club too straight rather than pressing down on it at impact which encourages an angle between the club and the forearms. You see that in all pros. The bad thing about the problem is that it promotes hooks as the clubface is naturally closed when I hold it more straighter to the forearm.

      Swinging in the right sequence should fix all that, although with all swing changes it’s frustrating as heck. And since this is one of the more common amateur mistakes, I’d say it’s one that is easier said that done (probably like all golf swing fixes).

  6. Tom

    Jan 8, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I was spraying Dr. Scholl’s on my driver and people thought I was crazy saying ” Be sure you get between the toes”

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Instruction

WATCH: How to stop swaying during your golf swing

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In this video, I share with you how to stop swaying for good. I demonstrate how to use PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) to create the correct movements in your backswing. This video is part of a series on PNF drills.

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A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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